The Suzuki Vitara returns this week to the booming small SUV segment it helped create way back in 1988, armed with interesting design and some very sharp pricing.
The reborn Suzuki Vitara serves as a companion model to the S-Cross crossover, and shares that car’s architecture and mechanicals. It offers less cargo space, but brings to the table faux-tough looks reminiscent of the first five-door Vitara launched in 1991.
Despite the Vitara badge having been off the market for 17 years, it retains strong equity. Suzuki is keen to tap into that, and expects the Vitara to become its second most popular car after the Swift, averaging up to 500 monthly sales once supply out of Hungary frees up a little.
In fact, Suzuki expects sales of small SUVs in general to keep booming and to overtake sales of small hatchbacks — still the market’s top segment — in the next few years. That would definitely play to the company’s strengths.
From launch, Suzuki Australia will offer the Vitara in two specification levels — the front-wheel drive RT-S and the part-time four-wheel drive RT-X. Both come with the same 1.6-litre petrol engine as the S-Cross.
The RT-S kicks off at a very competitive $21,990 plus on-road costs with a five-speed manual gearbox, or $23,990 with a six-speed auto — cheaper than any rival bar the Ford EcoSport Ambiente and Mazda CX-3 Neo.
However, Suzuki Australia (excluding Queensland, which has a different distributor) is also subsiding on-road costs on the RT-S, and will offer each for $22,990 and $24,990 drive-away respectively. That beats all comers.
And it’s no base model ‘stripper’ either. Standard features include a seven-inch touchscreen with Suzuki’s new four-mode infotainment system, satellite-navigation and a reverse-view camera, 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control, daytime running lights and cruise control.
All variants get seven airbags and two ISOFIX anchors, and nailed recent Euro NCAP testing to get five stars.
The other variant on offer, the RT-X, costs $31,990 plus on-road costs. This version adds equipment including a panoramic sunroof, leather-suede seats, keyless start, LED headlights, and auto lights and wipers.
The RT-X also gets Suzuki’s ALLGRIP on-demand 4WD system, which includes a few different modes — Snow, Sport and Lock — that allocate torque to each axle in different ways depending on the surface you’re on and your driving style.
In normal Auto mode the Vitara is front-drive, with torque sent to the rear when slip is detected. There’s no low-range, though you do get hill descent control and (good for the class) 185mm of ground clearance.
Key to the Vitara is its boxy styling, replete with the signature clamshell bonnet and flared arches (though no more three-door and soft-top bodies!). You can also ‘personalise’ by swapping the colour of the interior plastics at your dealer for about $300. For $995 you can have a two-tone colour scheme.
Under the bonnet of all models is a 1.6-litre petrol engine making a modest 86kW at 6000rpm and 156Nm at 4400rpm. Transmission options are a five-speed manual (RT-S only) or six-speed auto with torque converter, not the S-Cross’ CVT, on both RT-S and RT-X.
These meagre outputs are countered by the very light kerb weights — 1075kg for the RT-S and 1185kg for the RT-X. Combined-cycle fuel consumption varies between 5.8 litres per 100km and 6.3L/100km.
With dimensions of just 4175mm long, 1775mm wide and 1610mm high, the Vitara is tiny even by class standards. The Mazda CX-3 is 100mm longer, while the average small hatch like a Mazda 3 is almost a foot longer.
Cargo capacity is about 100L down on the more practical S-Cross, but at 375L (to 1120L with the rear seats folded 60:40) there’s still decent space. You get a two-tier load floor, but only a space-saver spare underneath.
2016 Suzuki Vitara pricing:
RT-S manual $21,990 ($22,990 drive-away)
RT-S auto $23,990 ($24,990 drive-away)
RT-X auto $31,990
Suzuki Vitara specifications:
Steering wheel auto controls
17-inch alloy wheels
Daytime running lights
RT-X (above RT-S):
On-demand 4WD system
Leather/suede seats and suede door inserts
Keyless entry and start
Polished 17-inch alloys
Front/rear parking sensors
Chrome exterior highlights
Auto on/off LED headlights with auto levelling
Folding door mirrors
Overhead console with sunglasses-holder